Mike Evans’ star turn during his breakthrough season with Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year saw him emerge as one of the top wide receivers in the NFL.
Although Evans routinely dominated cornerbacks with his rare combination of size, athleticism and route-running skills and was named to his first Pro Bowl, the former Texas A&M star from Galveston dealt with a constant strategy of double-team coverage intended to curtail his impact. There simply wasn’t a deep-threat presence opposite Evans to challenge defenses and divert defensive backs’ attention.
Now, Evans will have the advantage of working in concert with veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson. He’s excited about forming a dynamic tandem with Jackson, who signed a three-year, $33.5 million contract with the Buccaneers this offseason.
“This is going to be awesome,” Evans said. “Obviously, I think we could be one of the best tandems in the league. DeSean is an explosive receiver. I think we can do great things together.
“As soon as he got signed, we had dinner and we connected right away. We knew each other already. I’ve always been a fan of his game and the swagger he brings. Having him on the team will be very helpful.”
Since being drafted seventh overall in 2014, Evans caught a career-high 96 passes for 1,321 yards and tied his personal best with a dozen touchdown catches.
In three NFL seasons, the former Aggies consensus All-American and first-round draft pick has caught 288 career passes for 3,578 yards and 27 touchdowns while catching passes from improving young quarterback Jameis Winston.
The Buccaneers exercised a fifth-year team option for 2018 for Evans in April that’s worth $13.258 million.
“Mike is a Buc for life,” Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht said when the team exercised the option. “ can promise you at some point, I can’t tell you when, we’ll be contacting his agent to try to make him an offer that will make him a Buc for long term.”
That commitment is expected to eventually culminate with a lucrative contract extension for Evans, who’s represented by agent Deryk Gilmore.
“I feel the same way,” Evans said. “I want to be a Buccaneer for a long time. I have a great relationship with everyone here. I want to be with Jameis. We can be one of the best duos out there. If everything falls in line, I just want to be with him and my teammates for a long time.
“We’ll see how it plays out. I’m hoping everything will play out well. I think we’ve got a good thing going. I just want to be around. I love this group of guys.”
Since being drafted by the Buccaneers, Evans has yet to make the playoffs. The Buccaneers finally achieved a winning record, a 9-7 mark last season, under new coach Dirk Koetter. They went 2-14 and 6-10 in Evans’ first two NFL seasons.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs first,” Evans said. “If we get into the tournament, anything can happen. Last year, we beat some quality opponents. We beat some playoff teams.
“We were in a lot of close games with teams that made the playoffs. I think we can be a contender. We have the talent. We have to put in the work. We look great on paper.”
However the Buccaneers wind up doing, their progress will be immortalized and televised by HBO on the popular “Hard Knocks’ program. Evans was initially wary of being on the show, which has an all-access format with a heavy presence of cameras chronicling training camp.
“At first, I didn’t want to be on Hard Knocks,” Evans said. “I like watching it and seeing other teams on it. I guess it’s going to be a cool chance for our fans to see a different side of it and how we work. I think it will be cool and I don’t think it will be too much of a distraction.”
Evans avoided trouble while living in the Galveston housing projects and overcame a family tragedy at age 9 when his father, Mickey, was murdered by Evans’ uncle. Sam Kilgore, Evans’ uncle, stabbed and shot Mickey Evans after becoming enraged by the domestic violence his sister, Heather Kilgore, had been subjected to by Evans’ dad. Sam Kilgore was originally sentenced to 38 years, but is serving a life prison for killing is cellmate a decade ago.
“I’ve always had great mentors,” Evans said. “I’ve had a lot of great friends and people in my life. It all helps. You’ve got to live on and stay positive and give back to others.”
Growing up in Galveston, Evans interacted with former Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton during his annual football camps.
That planted a lasting seed with Evans.
Evans will hold his second annual football camp on June 24 at Ball High School in Galveston. Among the other players scheduled to attend: New England Patriots linebacker and former University of Houston standout Elandon Roberts, and former Aggies wide receivers Derel Walker, Ryan Swope and Travis Labhart.
Evans’ football camp is being held through a partnership with the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce (registration available at galvestonchamber.com) and is intended for children ages 8 to 14. The camp will include football drills and stress the importance of teamwork and education. The camp is sponsored by the Galveston Chamber of Commerce, GISD, Texas A&M, UTMB, Mario’s Seawall, Ball High School and the Buccaneers.
“I’m just giving them an experience,” Evans said. “I’m giving them an opportunity to come out and have fun. It’s a chance for to give back to my city. They get to be around a professional athlete and learn from me and my friends.”
Evans averaged 18.3 points and 8.4 rebounds in basketball at Ball, where he was an all-district selection as a senior in his lone season playing football, catching 25 passes for 648 yards and seven touchdowns.
Evans declared early for the draft after a final season in College Station in which he caught 69 passes for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns as the primary wide receiver for trouble-prone quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Evans caught 68 passes for 1,051 yards and 12 scores as a rookie and 74 passes for 1,206 yards and three touchdowns in his second NFL season.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Evans, who’s married to Ashli Dotson and has a daughter. “I just want to share that with people, the kids. Everybody had so much fun last year. I love kids. I know a lot of kids from the area.
“It’s just fun seeing everybody and interacting and playing with them, especially the younger ones. They can compete. It’s fun seeing them happy.”